It’s conference season! Next week I’m heading to San Francisco for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which boasts thousands of attendees and countless opportunities for networking, skill-building, and…sheer exhaustion. To prepare, I asked a bunch of nonprofit leaders how they make the most of big events like this. Here’s part 1: what to do before you leave.
Do you really want to do this?
Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist:
Think twice—or three times—before signing up. It’s tempting and easy to sign up for a conference that’s happening a few months from now, but pretend for a moment that the conference is happening tomorrow or next week. Would you still want to attend? If so, go for it!
Make a plan.
Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:
Create a schedule for yourself ahead of time. Don’t budget every minute of every day, but do outline any sessions you know you want to see, and add in a block or two of time that’s free time so you reserve flexible time to meet up with new friends or explore the city.
Allison Jones, Fundraising and communications professional:
While I may blog and have an online presence, I am at my core an introvert. Large group settings make me uneasy so I always feel incredibly nervous before a conference…But I build a ton of relationships online, and conferences offer an opportunity to strengthen those relationships face-to-face. [Arranging ahead of time to] connect in a small group or one-on-one feels less random and less “networky”; these interactions invigorate me and allow me to connect with people in a more meaningful way. Plus, by planning time to meet others, it makes it harder for me to run into a corner and hide!
Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
If the conference posts a participant list beforehand, go through the list and make note of who you want to catch up with or meet. Once you decide on those folks, PICK AN ACTUAL DATE, TIME, AND PLACE TO MEET. The best way to not actually meet up with someone at a conference is to just plan to “grab each other” when you’re there.
Creature comforts, AKA “Your body and soul”
This one’s mine:
On my packing list for this trip are comfortable shoes, workout clothes, healthy snacks to help me avoid a conference pastry overdose or overpriced airplane snack pack, and a travel mug or water bottle.
One thing I didn’t do that required advance planning: Sign up to volunteer. If your conference includes optional service opportunities like the NTC does, why not take them up on it?
Think (way) ahead.
Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck:
Block out time on your calendar now for AFTER the conference to process all that you learned and actually implement some of the bright ideas you’re certain to pick up in the sessions and in your conversations.
I’ll be back soon with Part 2: What to do while you’re there. In the meantime, have you tried these strategies? Do you have other “know before you go” tips for conference-goers?